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Body composition, energy expenditure and physical activity

Relation between body composition at birth and child development at 2 years of age: a prospective cohort study among Ethiopian children



Birth weight (BW), independent of socioeconomic status, has been identified as a predictor for childhood cognitive development. However, it is not known whether this relation is related to low BW per se or particularly related to a deficit in fat mass (FM) or fat-free mass (FFM) at birth. This study therefore aimed at investigating the relation between body composition at birth and child development at 2 years of age.


An Ethiopian birth cohort was followed up at 2 years. Body composition was measured within 48 h of birth using infant air-displacement plethysmography. Child development was assessed at 2 years of age using Denver developmental screening test. Associations between body composition at birth and development at 2 years of age were tested using linear regression analysis.


FFM but not FM at birth was positively associated with higher global developmental score at 2 years of age (β=2.48, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.17; 4.79) adjusted for neonatal, postnatal and parental characteristics. This association was attributable to the association with the language developmental domain (β=1.61, 95 CI 0.33; 2.90).


Among Ethiopian children, FFM at birth but not FM predicted better global and language development at 2 years of age. Higher FFM at birth might have exerted a positive effect on the growth and differentiation of the brain and neuronal circuits for better development. This study therefore highlights the need to improve mother's nutritional status during pregnancy in ways that stimulate fetal FFM growth.

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We would like to acknowledge Jimma University for allowing the research to be conducted and providing logistic support. We also like to acknowledge the Jimma University and University of Copenhagen Alliance in Nutrition (JUCAN) research staff for their unreserved commitment to this research work and the study participants for their time and participation. This study was supported by grants funded by Danish Council for Strategic Research—Program Commission on Food and Health; Danida through the Consultative Research Committee for Development Research (104. Dan.8-1207 and 09-097 LIFE). Funders had no involvement in the conduct and report of the study.

Author contributions

MA, HF, TG, PK, GSA, MT and JW: designed the study; MA, BA, TG, MT, GSA, RW, PK and HF: conducted the study; MA, BA, PK, JW and HF: analyzed data and interpreted the finding; MT, TG, CH, RW and GSA: commented on the interpreted findings and contributed to the write up; MA: wrote the first draft of the manuscript and had responsibility for the whole work. All authors reviewed the content, read and approved the final version.

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Correspondence to M Abera.

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Abera, M., Tesfaye, M., Girma, T. et al. Relation between body composition at birth and child development at 2 years of age: a prospective cohort study among Ethiopian children. Eur J Clin Nutr 71, 1411–1417 (2017).

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